After springing ahead, Bruins don’t want to fall back
UCLA ends spring practice with its spring game at the Rose Bowl tonight at 7. Here are five things that are apparent after four weeks of workouts:
And the winner is . . .
Kevin Prince is the quarterback. Coach Rick Neuheisel has yet to hold a coronation, but it has to be Prince . . . for a few reasons.
First, UCLA coaches cannot be sure what freshman Richard Brehaut is capable of doing. Brehaut, who enrolled early to participate in spring practice, toured the learning curve (spinning out a few times) but showed impressive raw skills.
Second, UCLA coaches are sure what Kevin Craft is capable of doing. He had a school-record 20 passes intercepted last season, and the Bruins’ longest scoring plays in 2007 were interceptions returned for touchdowns.
The job, though, was not won by default. Prince, who redshirted last season, had a solid spring, showing good arm strength and accuracy.
Hold that line . . . till August
Offensive line coach Bob Palcic had a revolving-door policy last season -- the Bruins had eight different line combinations in 12 games -- mainly because too often his linemen had an open-door policy when it came to blocking.
Among the NCAA’s 119 major-college teams, this is where the Bruins ranked:
Total offense: 111.
Yards per carry: 117.
Points per game: 109.
Sacks allowed: 110.
It took a village, to be sure, but it all started with the line.
Things appeared a bit better this spring, but any real improvement won’t be clear till August, when junior college transfer Eddie Williams and freshmen Stanley Hasiak and Xavier Su’a-Filo arrive.
Does UCLA buy medical boots in bulk? The count Thursday had five players wearing them. Even one of the program’s football operations employees was hobbling around in a protective boot throughout spring practice.
The point being: depth.
Ankle injuries to Kai Maiava and Jake Dean left the Bruins thin at center, a reason they will limit the number of plays in tonight’s scrimmage. Foot problems for Ryan Moya (surgery) and Logan Paulsen (broken bone) reduced the numbers at tight end, leading to Nate Chandler’s being shifted from tackle.
At positions other than wide receiver and tailback, the Bruins still face a numbers game brought on by years of recruiting miscalculations.
The glass is not half full . . .
. . . But at least it’s not cracked and leaking all over the counter.
Neuheisel leans relentlessly toward the optimistic, which means he can spend plenty of time talking about the defense.
Depth is a concern -- the Bruins may rely on a (gulp) true freshman as a backup cornerback -- but the starting group looks solid.
Cornerback Aaron Hester has demonstrated high-end skills this spring, combined with high-level, highly verbal confidence. With Rahim Moore already at free safety, receivers will get that in stereo.
Linebacker Akeem Ayers seems ready to become an extremely unpopular person among opposing players. He delivered the loudest hit of spring practice, leveling tailback Derrick Coleman.
And the way safety E.J. Woods has hit (and was admonished for a few of those hits) this spring has him on track to be a dangerous safety, as long as he gets through legal entanglements -- he has a pretrial hearing on four charges of misdemeanor sexual battery and two of misdemeanor battery on May 12.
Forecasting the future
And just what does this all mean? Well, the Bruins should improve on the 4-8 record of 2007, especially with tomato cans such as San Diego State and Kansas State on the schedule. The Pacific 10 Conference doesn’t map out ogre-like, so UCLA could be rewarded with a lower-tier bowl (viva Las Vegas, anyone?).